on June 4th, 2021

As the effects of climate change and global warming become more apparent, innovative engineering trends are the key solutions to promoting sustainable change.

From one day to another, trends quickly change and develop to respond to the needs and wants of society. However, when it comes to the field of engineering, trends can have a long-lasting impact on our future and humanity’s progress.

Addressing sustainable development within the context of modern environmental challenges will require engineering in a central role. Within the discipline, developing trends must be carefully nurtured to ensure a better quality of life for all.   

Here are our top 5 green engineering trends that we believe will contribute to a resilient and more sustainable world, which is at one with nature.

Construction site at sunset utilizing green engineering trends
Photo by Alex Basov on Unsplash
  1. Sustainable Construction Materials

Ethically sourced and long-lasting materials should be a priority for every engineer, not just because of their positive environmental impact but also due to their increasing availability. As the world continues to urbanize, sustainable development will require energy-efficient buildings and reduced carbon emissions.

To ease the environmental impact of urban areas, civil and structural engineers should be looking towards eco-friendly windows. According to Emergen Research, the global insulating glass window market size is expected to reach AUD $23 billion by 2028. This forecast can be attributed to the growing need for energy efficiency in buildings.  

While insulating glass works well to minimize energy consumption through better temperature regulation, insulating glass also reduces sound pollution, UV ray exposure and is more durable.

Emergen research found that the glass takes longer to break, and as a result, it can increase the safety and security of a building. The fact that these windows are more adept at withstanding extreme weather conditions also works in its favor, as well as the fact that it’s suitable for residential and commercial buildings.

Zero waste concrete is another worthwhile investment when it comes to sustainable construction materials. Global consulting firm, McKinsey and Company, has thrown their weight behind sustainable causes, and their recently published work estimates that the cement industry leads to a quarter of worldwide CO2 emissions.

The chemical reaction of raw materials, when exposed to high temperatures to create cement, is a major contributor to that emissions total. To combat this, and lessen the cement industry’s CO2 emissions by 75% by 2050, the industry needs to embrace new and innovative technology and alternative fuels such as biofuels, waste-derived fuels, wind energy, and hydroelectric power.

Plant-based building materials are also becoming increasingly popular alternatives, whether it is sustainable bamboo flooring or hemp-based insulation. According to Innovative Building Materials, hemp-based insulation is nearly all-natural, with no plastics or other chemicals that are usually found in insulation material.

Hemp, which is a material that can be sustainably grown, contains only 8% polyester fibers as well as non-toxic bonding agents and fire treatment in the composite. Most other forms of insulation are made with up to 50% chemicals that could be deemed toxic, depending on the construction authority and location. Sustainable construction materials is definitely a green engineering trend that civil and structural engineers should keep an eye on.

2. Solar Energy

While solar energy has been around for a while, its high cost has often been a main point of contention. However, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), in just one decade the cost of solar energy has reduced by up to 70%, making it not only more affordable but the most viable option on the market.

Towards the end of 2020, solar energy installation was at its highest ever in the United States of America. According to SEIA, the growth was coupled with governmental programs and outsets which included investment tax credit and the increasing demand for clean energy in the public and private spheres. Currently, SEIA estimates that 97 gigawatts of solar capacity are available in America. That energy equates to power for nearly 18 million homes.

Head of Energy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Marcel Alers, said at the beginning of the year that solar energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels. His sentiments come from the World Energy Outlook 2020 and make it clear that solar is currently the most affordable energy in the world.

The report states that renewable energy has grown rapidly, and solar power is central to this growth. Global policies and the commitment of individual countries helped in reducing the cost. In 2022, it is expected that solar energy will start to be fully deployed internationally as fossil-fuel energy is phased out.

Engineer working on solar energy trend
Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash

Solar energy is also helping economic recovery thanks to a growing need for experts and workers in the field. Solar energy now accounts for over 10 million jobs across the world. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2018, there were already 10.3 million people working in the sector. Of this number, 60% were based in Asia with the United States of America, India, and Germany also providing a large number of employment opportunities. If there is one green engineering trend that engineers should be upskilling in, it is the field of solar energy.

EIT's 52859WA - Graduate Certificate in Renewable Energy Technologies is the perfect opportunity to gain skills and knowledge in the latest advanced technologies in power generation through renewable energy technologies.

Buildings with plants on its roof promoting green engineering trends
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

3. Zero Energy Buildings

Buildings of the future are not only going to be self-contained powerhouses that generate their energy and power but will also help to reduce pollution and reach carbon neutrality in urban areas.

Net zero-emission buildings are not only valuable for a sustainable future, they are now commonplace. According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), all buildings will be zero-emission buildings by 2050 as part of the United Nations Paris Agreement

Decarbonizing buildings is important to lessen CO2 emissions. It’s estimated that building operations account for 28% of energy-related CO2 emissions in the world. This is a massive contribution to climate change.

Building improvements can start to decarbonize urban areas with simple solutions like plant-based facades. In the paper ‘How plants inspire facades. From plants to architecture: Biomimetic principles for the development of adaptive architectural envelopes’, it is established that these facades can play a vital role in controlling energy waste from buildings – while also naturally reducing pollution. 

According to WRI, improved buildings not only tend to aid investment in urban areas but also enhances the quality of life for citizens. The Paris agreement mobilized USD $1 trillion to invest in improved and zero-emission buildings in developing nations. If the ideals of the UN’s Zero Carbon Buildings for All succeeds in only 10 countries, 432 million tons of CO2 emissions will be avoided. That is 5% of energy-related emissions by today’s standards.

4. Water Protection

Can you imagine a world where urine is widely used as a source of electrical power and agricultural fertilizer? Well, soon you might not have to, as it’s nearly a reality. The urine economy has become a major sustainable water-saving measure and part of urban hygiene infrastructure.

Recycled urine has many uses, but its potential as a fertilizer has become a major water-saving tool that smart cities of the future should be utilizing. The Rich Earth Institute is already doing feasibility studies to if flushing systems that separate urine at the source will be helpful in villages or small towns.

The Village Sanitation Pilot Study looks at wastewater solutions, and how it interacts with septic tank systems. Septic tank systems impact the environment and public health when certain nutrients and pathogens get released into groundwater.

Composting and urine-diverting toilets are the unique cornerstones of the study. Urine diverting flush toilets reduce nutrient pollution because these nutrients are captured at the source and are then allowed to flow off-site and not into wastewater. Urine can then become a renewable fertilizer source.

The Pee Power Project is supporting green energy trends
Credit: University of the West of England, Bristol

Currently, the Institute focuses on urine collection from temporary events like music festivals where there is a rich source of biomass. Since 2013 the Institute’s work has saved 4,224,519 liters of water.

In 2017, Uganda became the first nation with a urine-powered facility where waste was used to power a small building. The Pee Power Project aims to show that human waste is a clean source of energy even in rural areas.

The trial project was based in a school where the ablution facility was lit from bioenergy. To achieve this a holding tank was installed where urine is fed into separate bins where the microbial fuel cells from the urine are connected to a series of wires and connections which generates electricity when urine is fed into different bins.

The United Nations Foundation is also passionate about Bioloos, which offer great sanitation and environmental benefits to rural areas. The loos collect waste that enters a bio-digester tank with a bacteria population. The bacteria treat the waste which then doesn’t need to be disposed of or transported. It doesn’t enter groundwater and larger tanks also produce biogas that can even be used for heating and cooking purposes.

According to the Newcastle University Global Challenges Academy low-cost wastewater management one of the key areas that solidifies water protection.

Building information model of a mechanical room developed from lidar data
By Oregon State University - https://www.flickr.com/photos/oregonstateuniversity/50513469887/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=104962373

5. Building Information Modelling (BIM)

Information for build assets is valuable when it comes to creating buildings that consider the best environmental and cost-saving approaches. Building Information Modelling (BIM) software allows detailed insight into these structures.

According to Autodesk, one of the leaders in disseminating BIM technology, BIM is a cloud-based platform that produces a digital representation of an asset from cradle to grave. From planning to construction, BIM allows for greater visibility, better decision-making, and more sustainable options.

Many countries are also introducing BIM policies since it aids in population control information as well as guiding environmental practices. Importantly BIM creates a valuable flow of information for stakeholders when it comes to quality design, construction, and insights into specific projects.

The software can also allow for modification and reworking ahead of time in situations where original plans fell short. It saves time and money because even the smallest detail like windows, panels, or construction points can be remodeled with precision.

Aside from the well-known economic benefits of BIM implementation, it’s clear that it has large environmental and social benefits too and leads to increased sustainability in the construction industry.

References

Emergen Research, 2021. Insulating Glass Window Market Size Worth USD 17.99 Billion in 2028. [online] Available at: https://www. emergenresearch.com/press-release/global-insulating-glass-window-market [Accessed on 27 May]

McKinsey and Company, 2020. Laying the foundation for zero-carbon cement. [online] Available at: https://www. mckinsey.com/industries/chemicals/our-insights/laying-the-foundation-for-zero-carbon-cement [Accessed on 27 May]

Innovative Building Materials, 2021. What every homeowner needs to know. [online] Available at: https://www. innovativebuildingmaterials.com/hemp-insulation/ [Accessed on 27 May]

Solar Energy Industries Association, 2019. Solar Industry Research Data. [online] Available at: https://www. seia.org/solar-industry-research-data [Accessed on 31 May]

Green Coast, 2019. 13 Important health and Environmental Benefits of solar energy. [online] Available at: https://www. greencoast.org/environmental-benefits-of-solar-energy/ [Accessed on 26 May]

United Nations, 2021. Growing momentum to make 2021 the global action year for sustainable energy. [online] Available at: https://www. news.un.org/en/story/2021/01/1081272 [Accessed on 21 May]

How plants inspire façades. From plants to architecture: Biomimetic principles for the development of adaptive architectural envelopes. Marlén López, Ramón Rubio, Santiago Martín and Ben Croxford, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 2017, vol. 67, issue C, 692-703. Available at: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1523344/1/Croxford_marlen%20lopez%20Elsevier%20how%20plants%20inspire%20facades%20energy%20and%20buildings.pdf

International Energy Agency, 2020. World Energy Outlook 2020 – Analysis. [online] Available at: https://www. iea.org/reports/world-energy-outlook-2020 [Accessed on 31 May] 

International Renewable Energy Agency, 2018. Renewable Energy Jobs reach 10.3 million worldwide in 2017. [online] Available at: https://www.irena.org/newsroom/pressreleases/2018/May/Renewable-Energy-Jobs-Reach-10-Million-Worldwide-in-2017 [Accessed on 31 May]

Rich Earth Institute, 2021. Rethinking urine economy. [online] Available at: https://www.richearthinstitute.org/rethinking-urine/economy/ [Accessed 24 May]

Global Policy Journal, 2020. Engineering sustainable solutions. Water: Value it differently. [online] Available at: https://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/10/03/2020/engineer-sustainable-solutions-water-value-it-differently. [Accessed 27 May]

UN Foundation, 2017. Bioloos: Helping achieve the goal of water and sanitation for all. [online] Available at: https://www.unfoundation.org/blog/post/bioloos-helping-achieve-the-goal-of-water-and-sanitation-for-all/ [Accessed on 24 May]

Autodesk. What are the benefits of BIM. [online] Available at: https://www. autodesk.com/solutions/bim/benefits-of-bim [Accessed 26 May]

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